With neither the governorship nor either U.S. Senate seat up this year, most of the attention in the Georgia primary Tuesday is focused on the heated primary for the newly-created 9th District. With 20 counties and parts of others in it, the new 9th is home to every constitutional officer in the Peach State and heavily Republican. Tomorrow???s primary is tantamount to election to Congress.
The contest for the all-important nomination is also important because its leading characters are representatives of the disparate factions in the national Republican Party: State Rep. Doug Collins, favorite of the GOP establishment and floor leader in the state House for Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, and Martha Zoller, longtime (16 years) radio talk show host, conservative swashbuckler, and Tea Party favorite.
Collins began the race as the favorite, in part because of his close association with Deal (who formerly represented parts of what is now the 9th District). He also has the backing of the National Rifle Association, having solidly backed the right to keep and bear arms during his stint as a lawmaker.
But Collins has also had some stumbling blocks that have apparently cost him dearly on the right. He opposes term limits — still a powerful cause among the tea partiers — and supported placing the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Tax (TSPLOT) to fund transportation projects on the ballot. This is a measure that national anti-tax advocates such as Grover Norquist as well as local ???ax-the-taxers??? opposed vociferously.
For all his reputation as a ???dealer,??? Collins has yet to secure the endorsement of Gov. Deal himself.
Enter Martha Zoller, who after so many years of bringing national figures into Georgia homes, is known locally as ???the First Lady of talk radio,??? or just ???The Lady.??? Zoller has secured endorsements from all wings of the conservative movement, ranging from Georgia Right to Life to most of the tea party groups — at whose meetings she has long been a speaker. Among those who have endorsed Zoller are presidential candidates (and Georgians) Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
???I respect all of them and am proud to have their support, but they aren???t as important as the local support I???ve received — the volunteers who walk precinct, work the computers, host coffees, and make this a truly grass-roots campaign,??? Zoller told Human Events between campaign stops Monday morning.
Zoller estimates there are 20-to-30 volunteers manning phones and doing other campaign chores at her headquarters in Gainesville — and, yes, it???s a storefront, she confirmed.
One sign that the race is tightening up is, Zoller told us, ???that my opponent has actually purchased attack ads against me and run them on Fox News. They take things I said on radio interviews out of context, such as when I???ve played devil???s advocate with a guest, and try to suggest I am not pro-life or I favor same sex marriage. Come on! If that were true, I wouldn???t be backed by Georgia Right to Life or the Susan B. Anthony List.???
Zoller added that people who have seen the ads who were undecided have said they know their message is untrue and decided to vote for her over Collins.
The Zoller-Collins contest is not ???the only game in town??? in Georgia???s primaries, but it is inarguably the Olympic competition of state politics. It will be watched closely by the state and national punditocracy.